It’s time to get back to horses for courses

The Coalition still suffers from the old Tory belief that everyone can be an Alan Sugar. But job reinvention is a pretentious cancer eating at our culture.

When I read two weeks ago that diplomats were to be pressed into service as overseas salesmen for Britain, my heart sank. I’m fully aware that they could argue about how they’ve been doing this job for centuries, but my riposte to that has to be “Well then, you’ve been making a balls of it since about 1906”. Your average mandarin couldn’t sell half-price gefillte fish in Tel Aviv, and nor should he or she be asked to. By all means use intelligence to find out who the decision makers and opinion leaders are. By all means effect an introduction and open some doors. But let’s not be silly here: diplomats carry out foreign policies and make remonstrations to Russians. They don’t sell brushes.

I was raging at a Cabinet Minister the other day about the very same thing in relation to doctors. He was valianty defending Andrew Rawnsley’s wishful bollocks about ‘bringing out the entrepreneur in GPs’ and ‘repositioning them as a service industry’. I do very much want my local doctor repositioned: right back where he was ten years ago – when we first met, and he was still a proper doctor.

My quack has as much idea about service as a caterpillar has about flying. One of the joys of reading Adrian Mole the Prostrate Years recently was laughing out loud at the exact shared experience of making fruitless phone calls, waiting days for an appointment, and being told peremptorily that such and such isn’t my doctor, he’s a member of the Group Practice senior management, and on he’s on a course about competitive service excellence.

Competitive, doctors? My backside. Do you know a practice that competes on price, service and product quality with a rival? No, and neither do I. It’s just more sub-Thatcherite drivel. Dentists compete. Doctors repeat prescriptions and endless advice – and seven times out of ten the bloody prescription’s wrong. The advice will be repeated twice a month for five years – and then dumped in favour of a diametrically opposite piece of advice.

So I’ve been sort of sadistically pleased over the last few days to note that all this job-reinvention fantasy has come back to bite the Coalition in the bum when it comes to the police. To be fair, this Government didn’t reinvent the police – but they didn’t put them firmly back in their box either. Instead, we got a lot of quasi-American pap about elected officials – yet more politics – on top of (not instead of) the five top-heavy tiers of cynical careerists we already have.

Having been spared the shorter leash by this new Government, what did the cops do? They only started lecturing the politicos on how harsh austerity plans were going to cause social unrest, didn’t they? Fair enough: teach police that they no longer have to nick lags, but just give counselling to feral kids breaking into off licences….and this is what you get.

I wouldn’t mind, but this is the standard disguised way of the police heavies saying ‘don’t cut our numbers’. Wherever you go within the TUC, the hypocrisy is mind-blowing: “Oooh no” say the rail unions, “All we care about is passenger safety”. As do the civil servants, the teachers, the BA unions and now the police – “it’s not us we care about, it’s the safety of others”. Cobblers.

The Slog said the same about Theresa May as about Michael Gove: the lady is well-meaning and capable, but she is dealing with the need for a quantum shift in culture here. The police dropped their real role years ago in favour of a cushier one; unsurprisingly, they’ve a hundred reasons why they shouldn’t go back to the bad old days.

Nurses want to have a smarter more doctorish uniform and be called something else that doesn’t involve wiping bottoms. University students want their lecturers to be called senior learners. Surgeons want to start laying down the law about badly behaved people not getting transplants. It can’t go on like this. It started fifteen years ago with thickies not wanting to be plumbers and electricians, and look where that got us: 260,000 unemployed media studiers and no carpenters.

My thesis is simple. If you’re a genius at free kicks, stick to that – and don’t embarrass the nation by making half-witted speeches to Nelson Mandela. If you’re a truck driver, drive the damn thing more safely by all means: but please stop telling me you’re in logistics, because you can’t even spell the word. And if you’re a Chief Constable in Cornwall, look out for the bags marked ‘swag’ – and don’t go on any more courses about cultural diversity management.